The Sun Is Also a Star is a tale of two teenage idiots in love. A tale as old as time. It is also a formula Hollywood trots out whenever it gets the chance. The only changes they make is how insufferable to make the main characters.
Ry Russo-Young is clearly a talented filmmaker. When her characters, Natasha (Yara Shahidi) and Daniel (Charles Melton) aren’t talking, The Sun Is Also a Star is an absorbing sensual story of young love. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and eventually they feel the need to speak.
Natasha is a senior in High School and in love with science and the universe. The movie opens up with her passion for the planets as well as for famed astronomer Carl Sagan. It’s almost never a good sign if a movie opens up with a teenager talking about the cosmos.
Soon we discover Natasha, along with the rest of her family, are due to be deported the next day back to Jamaica. But The Sun Is Also a Star isn’t about that. Lest you think it is some crucial part of the plot, her family and impending deportation are used as the ticking clock and nothing more. The movie cares so little about Natasha’s family that what little we know about them is from a voice over from Natasha herself. Whereas we spend time with Daniel’s family. We see him interacting with his family at home and the family business, a black hair shop.
Like Natasha, Daniel has a voice-over of his own and tells us about his family. Unlike Natasha, all of this information is accompanied by his actual interactions with them, thus cementing the characters in our minds. Natasha’s parents only ever speak with her on the phone, asking when she is coming home. If we do see them it’s only to have them yell at her to pack so they can be ready to leave tomorrow.
Daniel has his own ticking clock. He has an interview to get into Dartmouth. His parents want him to be a doctor. The youngest son, Daniel feels pressured to be “the good South Korean son” and obey their wishes, though he dreams of being a poet.
The screenplay is by Tracy Oliver who adapted it from the book of the same name by Nicola Yoon. Oliver’s script is filled with, I believe the technical term is twaddle. The Sun Is Also a Star is one of those movies where characters go on and on about destiny and fate. Characters who would in other movies just go on about their day. In this movie, however, they stop and pontificate about destiny.
Daniel saves Natasha from being hit by a car. After doing so he tells her that he’s in love with her. Normally these are words a serial killer tells his intended victim but Daniel isn’t crazy. He woke up this morning with the phrase “deus ex machina” in his head and he wrote it down. Natasha is wearing a jacket which has “deus ex machina” on the back. “It must be fate.”
These two characters are insufferable. If Natasha isn’t going on and on about how she doesn’t believe in love because it’s not verifiable and you can’t test it, Daniel is babbling about how every random coincidence is proof of the great mysterious hand that preordains this wild and crazy waltz we call life. Daniel bets Natasha he can make her fall in love in one hour—nay the day—to prove to her that love is real. Idiots.
Now Natasha has an appointment to meet with an immigration lawyer who might be able to help with her family’s case. Daniel has an interview with a mysterious man about his application to Dartmouth. What are the odds that Daniel’s interviewer and Natasha’s immigration lawyer are one and the same?
Early on in the movie, both characters are on the subway train. The train stalls and the MTA operator announces there will be a slight delay. The MTA operator then goes on to tell the passengers a story about a friend of his who missed the train and thereby missed being killed on 9/11. “What I’m saying is, be patient. You never know this might be where you’re supposed to be.”
Thankfully, mercifully, Shahidi and Melton are two charismatic exceptionally gorgeous people who share downright scorching chemistry. The dialogue is pseudo-intellectual hogwash, but brother, are they photogenic.
Not only that, Russo-Young is a crackling filmmaker. Saddled with a dullard of a script, she finds ways and moments to show these two falling in love in that intense end of the world way that only teenagers can. The best scene is easily the karaoke scene.
Utilizing light and color, Russo-Young, and her cinematographer Autumn Durald film Natasha and Daniel straight on. They cut back and forth, each frame filled with the other’s face. Daniel sings “Crimson and Clover” but can’t, so awestruck is he by Natasha’s beauty. The song continues, as Natasha dreams of the relationship her and Daniel might have. They get married, have kids, pursue each of their chosen dreams, and live happily ever after.
Edited by Joe Landauer, the scene all but explodes with passion, lust, longing, and sheer unremorseful yearning. The unrelenting bizarre syncopated rhythm of “Crimson and Clover” adds an underlying tension as these two just look at each other.
Shahidi with those expressive eyes and Melton with his Adonis-like cheekbones—the scene is searing. The craftsmanship of that one scene raises The Sun Is Also a Star above its shallow script. At that moment the movie understands, not love, but what it feels like to be in love.
More importantly what it feels like to be a teenager and be in love. It is a time in our lives when being in love is an agonizing ordeal. Love becomes a feeling that overwhelms you to the point that you fear that if you don’t say or do anything, existence itself will pull itself apart. It is of course, overly dramatic.
Sadly, it is over much too soon. Shahidi and Melton deserve so much better. I hope to see them in better movies in the future. Their perfect cheekbones aside, they have a warmth about them. Watching them, we find ourselves rooting for them, even if we roll our eyes at what they say.
The Sun Is Also a Star is blithering nonsense even by teenage romance standards. But then a moment of sheer beauty and sensuality arises, using nothing but visuals and sound, and you might find yourself as I did—gasping. Had The Sun Is Also a Star been a silent film, it might well have been a masterpiece.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures